Much Ado about Nothing - Aspartame?

03 July 1999

Food makes news, and the public's appetite for information is incessant. With the advent of the Internet, breaking stories or rumours are available on a world-wide scale within seconds. It's a superb source of information, but also one to be handled with care.

A recent campaign on the web talks of Aspartame, and contains many unfounded allegations, accusing this product of causing several illnesses from Multiple Sclerosis through to Alzheimer's Disease! Eufic's aim is to provide you with science-based information, and as Aspartame would seem to be the 'flavour' of the month, it is time to recall the basics.

What is Aspartame?

Aspartame is a low-calorie, intensive sweetener which is approximately 200 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar). It is used to sweeten a variety of foods and beverages and as a tabletop sweetener.

How is Aspartame Made?

Aspartame is made by joining two amino acids (protein components), aspartic acid and phenylalanine, and a small amount of methanol. These amino acids are found naturally in all protein-containing foods, including meats, grains and dairy products. Methanol is found naturally in the body and in many foods such as fruit and vegetable juices. Aspartame is digested like any other amino acids.

Why is Aspartame Used?

It tastes sweet, and helps people to control calorie-intake.

How do I know that Aspartame is safe?

Aspartame is classed as a food additive under European Food legislation, and as such, underwent rigorous, safety evaluation by the Scientific Committee for Foods (SCF) before its approval in 1981. Once an additive has been approved as safe across the European Union, it is assigned an E-number and Aspartame carries the number E-951.

Safety evaluation includes studies which assess how the additive is handled in the body and the intended uses in order to understand how much of the additive is likely to be consumed.

Aspartame has been approved as safe for the general public - including diabetics, pregnant and nursing women, and children - by more than 90 nations worldwide and by regulatory bodies such as the United Nations' Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JEFCA) and the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Can Anybody Consume Aspartame?

Persons with a rare hereditary disease known as phenylketonuria (PKU) must control their phenylalanine intake from all sources, including Aspartame. Thanks to EU regulation, products sweetened with aspartame must be labelled that aspartame is a source of phenylalanine, thus leaving the consumer the freedom to make an informed choice.

Is there any relationship between Aspartame and Multiple Sclerosis?

An unfounded campaign on the web tried to establish a link between aspartame and Multiple Sclerosis. Many health professional associations have refuted this argument. Dr David Squillacote, Senior Medical Advisor for the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation states that there is no scientific evidence that aspartame in any way causes, provokes, mimics or worsens Multiple Sclerosis.

For further information, why not take a look at the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation website:

For more information

Q&A about Aspartame